In the beginning of February, I traveled to Cuba for a week and since then, everyone has been asking me a million questions about traveling to Cuba. I literally got a few questions a day (still do) on all my social media platforms, so I figured I’d answer them all for anyone interested in traveling to Cuba.
I do want to point out that this is all based on my personal experiences and the things I learned before, during and after I visited Cuba.
I get it you guys, Cuba can be a complicated country to visit at first but don’t worry, I’m here to help with all the confusion.
Before I Traveled To Cuba
When I first started researching Cuba, I was blown away as to how much information you need to know before you go. I mean I visited at this point about 50 countries and I was getting a bit nervous, I’m not gonna lie.
It was my first time visiting a communist country and I really didn’t know what to expect – what was ok to say, ask and do and what wasn’t. If anyone really checked my reason for traveling to Cuba, if I’ll have problems coming back to the U.S. after Cuba at immigration. Booking a place to stay was also an issue I was dealing with at first. The question of whether I should fly straight from the U.S. to Cuba or go through Mexico was a dilemma I was dealing with. I also found out that Cuba has 2 currencies, I didn’t know which one to use and when (before I went). Another question I was curious about was if it was safe for female solo travelers. I’m not sure if you know this but ATM’s don’t work in Cuba, so you have to bring as much cash as you think you’re going to spend, the question was how much? I also heard that bringing dollars isn’t a good idea and that Euros are better. All these questions and more were all making me pretty nervous. It felt like I was traveling into the unknown and I kind of was.
While Visiting Cuba
My trip to Cuba was for 6 full days and I traveled there alone. I stayed in Havana and made a day trip to Vinales. I took a direct flight from LAX to Havana with Alaska Airlines and then visited Mexico and came back to Los Angeles, where I live. I stayed at 2 different Airbnb. My first Airbnb host set up a taxi to come pick me up from the airport which cost $25, which you can ask for as well. For the most part of my trip, I used the tourist currency which is called CUC. I exchanged most of my money at the airport and later at a hotel lobby. I traveled with Euros, not dollars. I explored the hell out of Havana and took a million and one photos (40 Photos That Will Make You Want To Visit Cuba). I spoke to the locals and found out what life is really like living in Cuba. I made friends and overall had a great time, but there were moments of disappointment, which I will explain in a little bit. Overall I think Cuba is a great country to visit, but you just need to be prepared and get the 411 before you go to make your trip easier and better.
LOVE IT OR HATE IT – Reality of Cuba
I know people that visited Cuba and LOVED it and I know people that went there and were disappointed and didn’t like it. I think that all depends on what kind of a person you are, what you’re looking for and what you like.
I’ll be the first to tell you, Cuba is NOT a luxury trip. Cuba is a journey through time, through history and a place that needs to be experienced. It will definitely introduce you to a whole new reality that maybe you didn’t know existed. It will definitely make you value your life and the place you come from more. There is ALOT of poverty and people there are REALLY poor. I want you to understand that it’s not just going back to the 1950’s but going back to the 1950’s post-war and revolution meaning many places are falling apart. People live with the minimal amount of things. The TV in Cuba only has 3 channels and is run by the government. People don’t have the luxury of using wifi at the comfort of their own home. Most neighborhoods don’t have street lights at night and it gets very dark. There is something really beautiful about that but there is something really sad about that for the people that do live there.
If you want to know more about that, I created a video on YouTube explaining all of it with photos so that you have a better understanding of Cuba.
WATCH IT HERE: THE TRUTH ABOUT CUBA – It’s Not What You Think
Now to answer all your questions about Cuba!
1. Are American’s allowed to travel to Cuba?
Yes, American’s are allowed to visit Cuba now. However, legally, in order to visit Cuba, you have to fall under one of these categories below. The next question would be, do they check? I personally don’t think anyone really checks, I think it’s more of a regulation thing but that’s just my personal opinion. If you fly straight from America to Cuba, you will have to fill out a form with your name, your passport number and the reason for your trip. This was given to me after checking in my luggage and collected before I boarded the flight. Cuba doesn’t care why you visit their country. America does.
12 Approved Categories:
- Family visits
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Journalistic activity
- Professional research and professional meetings
- Educational activities
- Religious activities
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
- Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
2. Did you have problems coming back to America?
I personally didn’t and I don’t think they really care. However, I did travel with my Israeli passport and I did get it stamped in Cuba twice.
When I came back into America, I was nervous and wondering if I should say that I traveled to Cuba, but I did anyways. When the immigration officer asked me where I traveled I said “Mexico…(paused for a few seconds) and Cuba”. I was so scared he would say something like why, what did you do there or I don’t know what, but he just looked at me and said, “WOW! That’s great! How was Cuba? Did you love it?”. Gosh, I was so relieved. It’s like he didn’t seem to be bothered by it at all. He never asked me why I went there or anything and he didn’t care that I had a stamp from there.
3.What paperwork do you need to travel to Cuba? Visa
In order to travel to Cuba, you will need to purchase a visa for Cuba. The visa itself isn’t like your normal visa that’s in your passport, it’s a piece of paper. If you’re traveling to Cuba from Mexico you can purchase it at the airport for $20. If you’re traveling from America, you can buy it at the airport for $100 and I also know there is a website that sells it for $80.
If you’re traveling from America you will also need to fill out the form of which category you fit under. This is given to you upon check-in at the airport.
4.Where should I stay in Cuba?
I personally think Airbnb is the best way. I wrote a whole blog post on where to stay in Cuba (Where To Stay In Cuba: Everything You Need To Know) but in short, I did my research. If you’re an American you can’t book hotels in Cuba with your American credit card/debit card. Plus the hotels there are super expensive and haven’t been renovated in at least 70 years, probably longer. The Airbnb in Cuba are really nice, mine were all renovated and cost about $40-$50 a day.
I also made a video tour of my Airbnb in Cuba with alot of helpful tips at the end. To watch CLICK HERE.
For those of you interested, I have a $40 off any Airbnb coupon (CLICK HERE) that you can use anywhere in the world! I used mine on the trip and it cost me less than $200 and one of my apartments had an ocean view. It’s totally worth it!
5. Is there WiFi and how does it work?
Yes, there is WiFi connection in Cuba, HOWEVER, and this is a big however, the internet is VERY limited.
Cuba is not like most countries in the world, it’s INSANELY rare that someone will have a WiFi connection or internet in their house. When I say rare, I mean 0.0001% have it and if they do, you still need the wifi cards. It’s not something that exists in Cuba. The internet in Cuba is not fast. It will cut off and log you off 100 times within that one hour. You can’t go on any websites. Any U.S. banking sites are blocked, media/news sites are blocked and Snapchat doesn’t work there. In order to use the internet, you need to purchase WiFi cards.
Also, don’t expect some crazy fast wifi, the wifi is pretty slow. Sometimes it works pretty fast for 10mins, then it can log you off for 15mins, then work again super slow and so on.
In order to use the internet, you need to purchase WiFi cards. That cost between $3-$5 per an hour.
My personal recommendation is to buy a few cards at once because they only sell them at certain hours. Legally they aren’t allowed to sell them past 8pm. However, sometimes, you can find locals that sell the cards at wifi locations. They do it secretly, but legally they aren’t allowed to sell it. So if you do find a local that sells it, know that you have to be low key about it and fast. My first night in Havana, I found a wifi zone pretty late, so I bought my cards off of a local for $3. They kind of noticed I was looking for it and whispered “WiFi”. They called it “We-Fee” in Cuba.
6. Where to find WiFi in Cuba?
This is a good question. If you find a big group of people just sitting around playing with their phones it means you found a wifi zone. This can be at the most random of places. WiFi is still up and coming in Cuba, so you won’t have wifi everywhere you go. You won’t find places that have them in cafes or restaurants, you can forget about that. However, most hotels sell them at the lobby. My personal favorite location for wifi was at the Plaza Hotel in Old Havana. Also right outside the National hotel next to the boardwalk called the Malecon. Other hotels lobby have it, but since so many people are using it at the same time, you will get logged off alot. There were hotel lobbies that they internet didn’t work at all and I would waste a whole card on nothing.
7. Is it safe to drink tap water?
No. DON’T! Be careful also with ice. Many of the locals normally boil water and then put it in the refrigerator, buying filtered water bottles are a luxury for them. However, you can find water bottles anywhere, it normally cost about $1.00-$1.50 for tourist and for locals $0.75.
8. Is Cuba Cheap?
Cuba is kinda cheap, depends. I spent about $35-$40 a day, which mainly went to transportation, WiFi cards and food. Actually, when I think back, that’s all it went on. However, I’m sure people have spent less and others $100 a day. I’m not a big foodie. I’m a vegetarian so my food options weren’t much. Most people say they spent about $40-$60 a person, per a day, it all depends on what kind of a traveler you are and if you are good at bargaining. Bargaining is a big thing in Cuba. Most places will over charge you because you’re a tourist. It takes some time to understand the prices of things, especially transportation. Always figure out the price at first, instead of at the end, otherwise, you will get ripped off.
9. Currency: What kind of currency do they use in Cuba?
Cuba has 2 types of currencies, one is the locals currency which is called CUP and then you have the tourist currency called CUC. 90-95% of your trip you will use CUCs as a tourist.
1 CUC (tourist) is equal to $1 USD
What can you buy/pay for with CUC’s: Hotels, taxis, restaurants, internet cards and tours.
1 CUP (local) is equal to $0.04 USD
What can you buy/pay for with CUP’s: bus and some food like foods locals sell on the streets/market.
Most Cubans make between $20-$30 USD per a month. That’s why there are 2 different kinds of currencies. Make sure that when you pay with CUC’s you get CUC’s back and vise-versa. Sometimes the locals will try to scam you, so be careful. The money is a bit confusing since most bills look exactly the same. Look for the CUC or CUP on the bill or change.
10. The Classic/Vintage Cars – the taxis
I’m sure by now the whole world knows that Cuba has some of the coolest vintage cars. Those classic cars are normally taxis. There are 2 ways to use those classic cars.
- Taxi: Most of the classic cars you see are taxis and are owned by the government. They don’t take you anywhere you want, they normally have a specific route in Havana and basically go around in circles and you just kind of hop-on-hop-off and people can join you on them. Most of the locals can’t afford it. For them, it cost 1 CUCs and as a tourist, it cost about 5 CUCs, those are the hard top, not the convertibles. The convertible ones cost double if not more.
- City Tour: In the center of Old Havana’s Capital is a parking lot of the classic convertible cars. These classic cars that are parked in that area, give the tourist a one hour tour around Havana for about $130. They are normally the pink ones and the nicest cars in Havana – all owned by the government.
Not all of the taxis in Havana are vintage cars, they also have normal yellow and black taxis, which are the taxis that take you to an actual location.
11. Can I bring US Dollars to Cuba?
The answer is yes, BUT, you will have to pay an extra 10% fee for bringing US dollars, plus a commission fee. My best recommendation is to bring Euros or Canadian Dollars.
12. Is it safe to travel solo to Cuba?
Yes! I felt 100% safe in Cuba. When you arrive to Cuba, you might not think so, but Cuba has a very low crime rate.
13. Do people speak English in Cuba?
The truth is is that most people don’t speak English, which was a bit hard for me personally. If you know Spanish you will do great. I know about 100 words in Spanish and thank God for that because of it, REALLY helped. If anything download an app with basic Spanish.
14. How to book tours and attractions?
You can visit any hotel lobby and book tours and attractions. I will say that you should make time for this, there is normally a long line and everything takes a long time in Cuba. Most people waited about an hour if not more. Also, know that you can’t book things for the same day like in most countries because of the internet situation. So plan wisely.
That’s it! Have an amazing trip! If you have any other questions, please feel free to comment below and I’ll answer them.
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